I recently went on a family vacation to Tulum, Mexico. This was my first major vacation in over 10 years and since getting sick! It was absolutely great and truly needed. The sunshine, heat, and ocean make my soul super happy.
Many people were curious about my trip with health conditions and I wanted to be able to share about my experience for others traveling to Tulum. I’ll only be sharing my experience IN Tulum, not general travel tips. If you would like a post on general travel tips with chronic illness, let me know in the comments!
A few important notes before we dive in: 1) I was there for 4 full days and did not get to do everything. I’ll simply be sharing what I did without an ability to compare, 2) I’ll share some “what I want to do/eat/see next time” things throughout, 3) I think it’s important to discuss Tulum and Mayan culture first.
So, first of all, if you’ve never heard of Tulum it is a small town about 2 hours south of Cancun. In the last 5-10 years, it has exploded into a touristy beach town (the next Cancun one day some might say). Although it’s still quite small relative to Cancun, it’s becoming a major beach trip destination in the Yucatan peninsula. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but as I began to learn about the area I felt torn about visiting. It’s sad to see the jungle being destroyed by humans with no care for the environment in the area. The local Mayans are also paid very little while big money internationalists come in to open large resorts. The cartels are slowly but surely moving into the area as it becomes more popular and the crime is steadily rising. There’s also been confusion over the land in the area with several raids over the last 10 years to reclaim land that some resorts are built on. You can read more about this here. I think all of this is just important to note if you are considering a trip to Tulum.
Some other key things to note about Tulum. I did not stay in town or visit town at all, we stayed in a hotel by the beach so I can’t speak to town at all (staying there, eating there, etc). Tulum is technically off the grid. All hotels are powered by generators, you can’t flush toilet paper (you throw it in a waste basket- takes a moment to get used to), and the infrastructure is not done well. They didn’t think ahead about the area growing and have just tried to adapt as the area has exploded. Most restaurants are mainly candlelit as the area tries to minimize electricity use as much as possible. While we were there, they had begun construction on the road to put in water and electricity. So that should be coming soon!
Also, you cannot drink the water in Tulum. You have to get bottled or filtered water only. Despite my best efforts to be extremely careful not to get water in my mouth while showering and avoid any sources of possible contamination, I still managed to get something while down there and returned home with horrible Montezuma’s Revenge (as it’s often called… and let me tell you, that name is accurate!).
There is only one small road into and out of the main hotel area of Tulum along the water. Since there is only one road where all the cars travel, people bike and walk it gets VERY crowded with a lot of traffic during peak hours. It’s honestly something you can’t even imagine until you see it. Everything is built right up to the road. I would say that generally Tulum is not accessibility friendly if you are using medical devices or mobility aids like a wheelchair. The road is very uneven and not suitable for wheelchair use (no sidewalks either). Everything is right on the sand, but I know some places you can rent those sand wheelchairs. Staff is incredibly helpful and would probably be willing to help carry your wheelchair if needed and I’m sure some hotels are more accessible than others, but generally it’s not ideal for mobility aids.
Quickly regarding travel, you fly into the Cancun airport and must drive the 2-2.5 hours down to Tulum. We used Canada Transfers. I did a lot of research on what transfer service to take. You can take the general bus service (I believe it’s called ADO bus), but that only leaves at certain times and you have to stop at the various bus stops. We chose a private transfer to make things easier and more efficient (highly recommend with chronic illness). Canada seemed the most affordable because they also provide cold towels and water bottles free of charge (which ends up being really nice when you land in a hot, humid climate). They meet you at the airport and take you directly to your hotel.
Now onto the more fun stuff. We stayed at Sanara Tulum because it is home to The Real Coconut restaurant, a completely allergy friendly eatery. This saved us a lot of time, energy, and stress because we knew I could just eat at The Real Coconut and not worry about constantly finding food for me.
I highly recommend Sanara for several reasons. Generally, it is in a great location. It’s further down the beach which gets more gorgeous as you go down it. The first part of the beach is rockier and seemed to have more seaweed, but it’s breathtaking as you get further south. It’s all close by to some of the best restaurants in Tulum, all walking distance from the hotel. Second, it obviously has a wonderful restaurant that is completely allergy friendly and accommodating for those of us with chronic health issues. Third, Sanara is built on the idea of health. Their toiletries are natural and non-toxic, they reuse bottles and jars as much as possible, and they provide you with everything you could need. They have 3 yoga classes a day and offer other weekly or seasonal healing classes. Their spa is also filled with healing based offerings and packages that are sure to boost your health!
The staff at Sanara is incredible! Everyone is so friendly and helpful. Everyone speaks English, as well. Basically everyone in Mexico does. They offer beach towels and anything needed for beach activities. If you decide to go on excursions, they provide the needed gear at no extra cost. Now, the rooms do not have fridges or TV’s, but otherwise they have everything you could need and are beautiful + comfortable (including wifi and AC, not all of the resorts have these).
I wanted to be able to explore other restaurants outside of our hotel. I did quite a bit of research and there seem to be a number of places able to accommodate gluten free eaters in Tulum. We ate at both Mur Mur and ARCA.
Mur Mur was suggested by one of the hotel staff and it did not disappoint! They use local and fresh ingredients and cook everything over an open wood fired grill. The place is cute and atmosphere laid back. Their bar has swing seats which are a unique feature. They were more then happy to accommodate my food allergies. I did take an allergy card written in Spanish to all restaurants just to make sure they understood what I could/couldn’t eat. Hartwood is the famous restaurant in Tulum and it’s right next door. You have to make reservations months in advance. When I tried to do so, they told me they couldn’t accommodate food allergies. But I learned that Mur Mur is secretly better and far less crowded (no res needed). Hartwood turns tables over as quick as possible to get people in and out ($$$) while other restaurants in the area are calmer. I highly suggest Mur Mur.
We also at at ARCA. I’d heard good things about this place, but hadn’t made a reservation. When a different dinner plan fell through, we stopped by ARCA to see if they could fit us in. They did and were incredibly helpful and accommodating about my food allergies. They were happy to help and the hospitality in Mexico was unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere. ARCA’s atmosphere is much more pumped up than Mur Mur. It’s much more hip and modern- food included!
Next time I want to make sure to grab a smoothie bowl or vegan ice cream at Raw Love. We didn’t get any authentic taco’s either, but there are plenty of yummy places, including Charly’s Vegan Tacos. I know there are a number of cute coffee shops in town, as well.
In terms of activities, we mainly spent time on the beach relaxing. I did a couple yoga classes at Sanara as their yoga studio is gorgeous and overlooks the ocean. If you are in Tulum, you have to do at least one yoga class!
I did spend one day visiting a couple cenote’s, as well. Cenote’s are basically sink holes that are filled with fresh water. Some of them are underground in caves and some are open. They are really fun for diving and snorkeling because you get to see some amazing aquatic life. There are thousands of them in the area, but I just visited two. We used a private taxi to take us since it’s hard to get a ride back once you’re out there. Our driver was super sweet and shared a lot of knowledge about the area with us.
Sac Actun Cenote is an underground cave cenote. You go through it on a guided tour and pay a small fee for entry. I did get a wet suit, but I could have survived without it.
Nichte-Ha is the second cenote we visited. This is a small open cenote. It’s not popular so it’s far less crowded (we basically had it to ourselves). Some cenotes can get VERY crowded and it’s advised to go first thing in the morning. We went in the afternoon and had no issues.
On our next trip (*fingers crossed* ha), I’d really like to take the full day tour of the preserve that is just south (at the end of the beach road into Tulum). It sounds absolutely amazing and you see both jungle life and aquatic life on the tour. I’d also like to spend some time in town and drive out to some of the smaller, historic surrounding towns.
Since we weren’t there super long, we mostly just laid around on the beach, swam in the ocean, and went for walks along the water. It would be fun to do some of the water activities next time like stand up paddle boarding and kite surfing.
This trip reminded me how much more there is to life than my sick bubble. I’ve spent many years needing to focus solely on my health and healing and although that is still a priority, it’s sort of taken over my life. I need to start branching out again and slowly dipping my toe back into the pool of living to get out of my constant treatment routine. It also reminded me how much I absolutely LOVE warm weather and the ocean and how good I makes me feel. The cold and mountains are not for me. So I’m more motivated then ever to figure out how to move closer to the water now.
Anyway, I hope this little guide/review of my trip was helpful! If you have any other questions about my trip or details of where I stayed and what I did, don’t hesitate to comment or reach out and ask! Happy Holidays!